After 16-year campaign, nonprofit declares victory at Spotsylvania’s Slaughter Pen Farm
By CLINT SCHEMMER FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Sixteen years after it began, the American Battlefield Trust has completed the largest private battlefield-preservation effort in the nation’s history. The nonprofit announced Monday it has made the final payment toward the $12 million purchase of Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania County, just south of Fredericksburg.
“When we began this journey, the goal was beyond audacious,” Trust President David Duncan said in a statement. “It was orders of magnitude beyond anything we had attempted, but the unparalleled historic significance of this land demanded that we stretch beyond what had then been considered possible. This is a milestone moment in the historic preservation movement.”
The Battle of Fredericksburg is best known for the doomed Union attacks on Marye’s Heights downtown, as thousands of visitors to the city’s National Park Service sites along Sunken Road would attest. But the fight was decided farther south, as Union troops confronted Confederate commander Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s defenses on Prospect Hill. When that Union assault failed on Dec. 13, 1862, soldiers and local residents named the site “the Slaughter Pen Farm.”
The field is critical to understanding the battle, said National Park Service historian Frank O’Reilly, author of “The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. masterful defense of ”
“The Slaughter Pen is the very heart and soul of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Without it, nothing makes sense,” O’Reilly wrote in his definitive study. “This is the point where the battle was won and lost.”
Comment: Here’s a bit of local news that shouldn’t be controversial to anyone. It was the lead story in my morning paper. To preserve this expanse of Civil War battlefield in the midst of urbanization and industrialization in this day and age was no small feat. I’ve followed the story since the beginning.
The fighting at The Sunken Road was pure pigheaded brutality. The fighting at Slaughter Pen Farm and Prospect Hill was a proper battle capped, in my opinion, by Jackson’s masterful defense of Prospect Hill in which he preserved his forces from heavy Union artillery fire from the heights across the Rappahanock while conducting a near mobile defense.
With this battlefield now secured, I can look forward to years of further terrain walks as I grow ever older, preferably replicating the season of the battle rather than in the middle of a hot, humid Virginia summer.